In May of 2009 we adopted a wonderful black dog named Maddy and made ourselves a happy little pack, Jim, Rhonda, and black dog.
Now she is gone, and our hearts are breaking.
Maddy chose me out of a crowd of people on a street corner in NW Portland. While being walked by a volunteer at Pixie Project Rescue she walked up to me, sat on my foot and leaned into me as she licked my hand. I was a goner. I immediately called Jim and within 48 hours we had become a family. We know nothing of Maddy’s past. She was skinny with a dull coat and the hair rubbed off the bridge of her nose. The vets thought she was around 10 years old and we only knew she was very well mannered and had been found on the streets in Southwest Washington.
Maddy immediately became the fuzzy, tail-wagging, smiling center of our family. Although we had been dog owners in the past, Maddy was different. She was content to patrol her yard doing perimeter control and peruse her area from the comfort of the front porch, but she was only truly happy when the pack was together and we, too, were at our happiest when hanging as a group.
Although she had slowed down over the last several months, we had taken it to be simply the slowing of age. She still loved to swim, fetch and hike and we made frequent camping trips. One week after our return from the San Juans, however, we were woken up by her distressed breathing late at night. After calming her down, her breathing became a bit less stressful but continued to be labored. The vets originally believed it to be a lung issue and we waited several days to see if it would correct itself, hoping it was a touch of pneumonia or a virus picked up on vacation.
Maddy’s favorite spot in the world was the beach. From her initial reaction to our first beach trip as a family, we fully believe she’d never been prior and we will never forget the first time we took her. She gingerly stepped onto the sand, sniffing excitedly, when Jim took her off her leash and encouraged her to run into the surf. She ran a few steps before stopping to look back at us with that, now familiar smile on her face, and an expression that clearly said “REALLY, I can go and play?!” right before she took off into the waves and proceeded to run the entire beach that day, scooping up water in her mouth as she jumped amongst the surf. From that day on she couldn’t get enough of a day at the beach.
Her breathing did not improve and she had lost interest in eating and several days after the initial vet visit Jim took an afternoon off to head back to the vet for chest x-rays. What we had hoped was a simple inflammation turned out to be news we dreaded, she had a tumor growing on her heart, her breathing was labored due to the fluid accumulating in her chest cavity, and there was no cure. Standing in the exam room I felt my heart crash. Of course, we knew in adopting an older dog we would not have an extended life together but how could this be happening?
Maddy was a smiler, unlike any dog I’ve ever seen. She loved to stroll the neighborhood and regularly dropped her favorite tennis ball onto an unsuspecting lap just to let someone know that she was amendable to a good game of fetch. She learned she was capable of swimming at Lake Billy Chinook, originally attempting to lift her legs higher and higher to walk on top of the water until I encouraged her to come in deep enough to begin to swim. The look of wonderment on her face is one I will never forget and from then on it was difficult to get her out of the lake.
The vets word reverberated in my brain and I felt weak in the knees…inoperable tumor, no treatment, a matter of weeks…. it had to be wrong, we had just come in for antibiotics, perhaps, not a death sentence! Jim was as overwhelmed by the information as I, while Maddy nudged my side saying “let’s get out of here”. She looked fine, was breathing easier, surely this vet didn’t know what she was talking about, although the syringe of blood colored liquid said otherwise.
Maddy was incredibly expressive and we never needed to try to figure out what she was thinking. When we first bought a crate for her to sleep in, she absolutely made it clear this was not for her. And so, we got rid of the crate and Maddy made the corner of our bedroom behind the pappasan chair her “safe” place. It was her favorite bedtime spot and the place she most liked to curl up. One day I had a wild hair and decided to re-arrange some furniture, moving the pappasan into a different bedroom and placing one of her dog beds in the corner. When it was time for bed she walked into the room, looked at the pad in the corner, looked at Jim and then gave me a look that VERY clearly said “and what the HELL do you think you are doing with this?” I tried to encourage her to get on her pad, a place she often slept, and she merely sat down and gave me that look. Well trained parents that we are, her pappasan immediately went back into it’s proper place and she let out a huge sigh and went to bed. I learned my lesson and never again considered moving her chair!
The vet had been able to draw a great deal of the fluid from around her chest cavity, making it much easier for her to breath. We were told it was a slow growing tumor and had probably been working for months to get to this point. As always, things are clear in retrospect and we remembered vividly that walk on the beach in April when she had come back to camp much more tired than normal and our concern for her when we did the annual Doggie Dash in early May. Obviously those incidents were the beginning of the end. Now, it was just a matter of time.
Maddy was an expert at making us laugh, from her back pose w/ her legs splayed in all directions while she snored, to her smiles when we came home from a day at work, to the kisses I got first thing every morning when I rolled over and said “good morning love bug”. If we were feeling ill or out of sorts she would stay close all day, offering up as many kisses as we could stand, and delighting us with her particularly adorable swaying gait while out hiking. She even helped choose her bandana for the week by nosing one of the options presented to her.
Because she was in no pain and her breathing had improved, we had high hopes for more time together. The vet even made it seem a possibility to draw out more fluid at a later time if she continued to do well otherwise. We changed her to a diet of partly canned food to encourage her to eat more, modified our pace and length of walk to increasingly shorter and slower distances as her heart continued to decline, we removed the dog gates that had contained her in the kitchen and outside during the day so she had full rein of the house. With her outdoor security duties lessened with her weakening condition, she took to spending much of her time on the bed, faithfully guarding my pillow. In short, she became even more spoiled than before.
I love to remember all of the favorite things she got to do in her last couple of weeks. Even to the end, she was a happy girl. Although she no longer raced down the driveway to meet us at the gate, she still came out to say hello with sloppy kisses. We went camping at Lower Lake and to the beach for one last weekend there. Her smiles broke my heart and I have rarely felt such joy at being able to give her that one final wonderful day at her favorite spot.
The speed of her decline was quick and devastating. Only 3 weeks after she was running the beach and swimming in the bay in the San Juans, she could barely walk to the end of our street and back. All we could do was make her as happy and comfortable as possible and allow her to lick away our frequent tears. We raced home after work even quicker than usual, wanting to spend as much time together as we could. When her breathing again became labored on Thursday morning I called to schedule an appointment for the next day, praying we could simply draw more fluid and have a few more precious weeks together.
Instead, that evening she was much worse. I felt temporary hope when she accepted me hand feeding her dinner and she drank water but Jim & I were both in tears, knowing that this time was different. We spent the evening trying to pretend it wasn’t happening, that if we all just went to bed we’d wake up on Friday and it would all be okay. But Maddy was a smart girl and she knew her time was over. Too uncomfortable to lie down, she sat by the side of the bed and gave me her ever knowing look. We got down on the floor with her, trying to help her get comfortable, crying and stroking her while telling her how much we loved her, all the while knowing that in taking her into our hearts, we made the promise that when it was time we wouldn’t let her suffer.
A late night trip to Dove Lewis vet hospital became inevitable. Even in her weakend condition, when Maddy saw her leash come out and the car keys she practically hopped with joy out the door and into the car, wondering what adventure we were headed towards. With the back windows down so she could fully participate in that dog loving sport of sniffing the world, she was as happy as she could be under the circumstances.
After a very short exam, where the vet immediately realized she was in heart failure, they needed to take her to a different room to put her port in and give her a sedative to help her along. Reluctant to leave us, she rested her chin on my knee and looked up as if to say “mommy, do I have to?” before we encouraged her to go. In that final room, we all cuddled on blankets on the floor together and she peacefully and quickly slipped away while we held her in our arms. Together to the end.
I don’t fully have the words to express what she meant in our lives. Her unfaltering and unconditional love made us all better. Hope and loyalty and love all came wrapped up in a fuzzy black package w/ eyebrows that reminded all of Jim’s grandpa Watson, representing all the best the world has to offer.
We so appreciate the love and support of all of our friends and the amazing staff both at our regular vet, Milner Vet Clinic and Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital, as they all cried real tears with us, recognizing what an amazing dog she was. There will never be another like her. We love you Maddy, with all of our hearts, and will see you in our dreams until we can be together again.